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Clinton City Council eyeing rate increase to solve water problem

By Tammy Keith

This article was published September 27, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.

— Clinton drinking water is dirty. There’s no doubt about it.

The state Department of Health gave the city two years to correct the situation or be fined.

“We’re almost a year into that,” Clinton Mayor Roger Rorie said.

He has recommended a rate increase to help build equipment to clean the water.

He said two water clarifiers, at a total estimated cost of $2.8 million, are needed.

Rorie has proposed to the Clinton City Council a water-rate increase of $3 per meter, per month, to fund a 15-year, $1.4 million bond issue to pay half the cost.

He said the Arkansas Economic Development Commission awarded a $1.4 million grant to fund the other half of the project.

The difference in cost to customers was approximately 20 cents a month between a 15-year bond proposal and a 20-year bond proposal, Rorie said.

“I have talked to a lot of people. I haven’t had one complaint on it,” Rorie said of the proposed fee increase.

John Hargis, 68, manager of Huddle House in Clinton, said although no one likes to pay more for services, he would support the proposal.

“I would, simply because I realize they’ve got to do something, or we’re going to have to go somewhere else for our water,” he said.

“Usually, the water is fine. It’s just from time to time, especially when they have a lot of rain and a lot of silt is washed into the lake, they have problems with the turbidity of the water. So they’ve got to something.

“I believe if people were truly aware of just how bad that water is down there and that we might lose our water system, I think people would support [the increase]. Our options are limited.

Rorie said options are not just limited.

“Our options are zero,” he said.

The water comes from the channel of the Little Red River. Choctaw Creek and Little Red come together at Peter Rock Point, he said, which is where the water intakes are located.

“That’s where our water plant is. As a matter of fact, the Town Branch, Archey Creek and South Fork affect our water supply more than Choctaw Creek,” he said

“Our water plant, it’s an extremely fast plant — like eight minutes [retention time in the plant]. We don’t have any treatment time. At the time that plant was built, that was great. The water was much better. We need the clarifiers to slow it down.”

Erosion has caused the problem, he said.

“We’ve had lots of landowners clearing trees right down to the water. That’s a huge cause of it,” he said.

Rorie said one man on a branch of Archey Creek had “gone out in the middle of the stream and built him an island.”

Rorie said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fined the man.

“We’ve got a lot of landowners that have absolutely abused our streams, and now we’re going to have to pay for it,” Rorie said.

The Nature Conservancy of Arkansas, along with the city of Clinton and other partners, is embarking on an extensive restoration project for 3.5 miles of the Little Red River as well as the South and Archey forks. The river was channelized after historic flooding in 1982.

“We’re trying to put our streams back to where our water will be clear — that’s a long, long process,” Rorie said. “If we had our streams restored, we’re talking about 50 years from now, we wouldn’t need a water clarifier.”

Rorie said he toured the Batesville water plant, which gets water from the White River, to watch the operation of its three clarifiers.

“The things about it, the Health Department really can’t fine us unless we have heavy, heavy rains and we get water so bad at our intakes that the plant won’t treat it,” he said.

Rorie said he encouraged the City Council to “be ready to take some action this calendar year.”

“We don’t have a lot of time to play around with it,” he said of installing the clarifiers. “If we’re in progress in a year, we’re good to go.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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